|Well, this is awkward. Both playing at once? Um...|
And so, without further ado, let's have ourselves a little look-see:
The Case for the Tree (Schultz): Between him and Erskine, Schultz is the more "decorated," and there is little doubt about that. He makes more than twice as much, won the NHL plus/minus award in 2009-10 with a ridiculous +50 rating, and has played more than 60 games a year for Washington over last four seasons as an established regular. He has seen significant time on DC's top defensive pairing with Mike Green in his career, so he has a lot of experience dealing with other teams' top players. Schultz is also a relatively good skater for someone his size, isn't totally useless with the puck, and is one of the best shot blockers on the team; he got in front of 138 pucks last season. That number ranked second on the team behind only John Carlson, and his blocking ability was key in the resurgence of the DC penalty kill unit. In addition, Schultz is the holder of an extraordinary NHL record: he was on the ice for over 119 minutes last postseason without a goal allowed. I know it's not like the man was single-handedly fending off the Bolts and the Rangers, but that number is impressive nonetheless.
The Case for the Wagon (Erskine): Schultz may have more individual accolades, but fewer players try harder than big John. He brings more heart and effort to the table on every shift than almost anyone else on the roster, and it is apparent in his play and improvement. This past season, Erskine had a career year, setting or tying highs in every single significant statistical category. After never playing more than 52 games in a season during his first three seasons in DC, he jumped to 72 games played last year and saw important ice time on an almost nightly basis, managing to not mess up for the most part. Erskine is also one of the best checkers that the Caps have, finishing this past season behind only Alex Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks in total hits. And, of course, the man can fight. He and the aforementioned Hendricks led the team in fighting majors by a mile, and you need physical, annoying players in the lineup to help protect your skill guys.
The Knocks: While Schultz is a great shot blocker, he refuses to use his size to hit people and be physical, which is often detrimental to his game. He finished seventh on the team in hits last year, inexcusable for someone of his size, and you could see, particularly in the playoffs, that when he was matched up against a Sean Bergenheim or a Steve Downie, he had no idea how to handle their physicality. Erskine, on the other hand, is a pathetic shot blocker despite his size and hitting prowess. He finished sixth among defensemen in blocks, and would have been seventh if Mike Green had been able to play anywhere close to a full season; Green blocked 11 fewer shots while playing in 24 fewer games. Erskine's skating is also suspect on occasion, and his seemingly irresistible desire to hit everything causes BAD pinches sometimes.
The Verdict: Depending on who you take out, you subtract a valuable piece of the lineup: increased physicality and toughness from Erskine; or smarts. experience, and exceptional shot blocking with Schultz. That being said, I think that, health permitting, Schultz will see about 55 games and earn the majority of the playing time. Heck, if he and Dennis Wideman continue to show the chemistry that was beginning to look encouraging before Wideman got hurt last March, it could be even more. This team has added enough grit and toughness in the offseason by adding Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, and when it comes down to brass tacks, I really think Schultz is the best defenseman. I love Erskine's effort, but he is not going to be as good this year as he was last, nor is Schultz going to be as bad this year as he was last. Expect a bounce-back from the Sarge.